Distribution Center, Fort Smith, Arkansas
LTJG Warren E.
McLellan in the cockpit of a TBM, Avenger Torpedo airplane, attached to
Torpedo Squadron Sixteen
From August 1921, when I was born, until September,
1941, I was fighting the battles of growing up-School,
parents, 3 sisters and 1 brother, right here in
Fort Smith. From September,
1941 to May, 1950, I was helping to fight some battles for
our United States.From 1944 until today, I have been
fighting the battles of marriage!!
I received a good upbringing in a Christian home during
the early years. I received a Purple Heart and an Air
Medal and some other ribbons to show for the military war.
and, I have a wife, 3 sons, and 3 daughters- In-law, 6
grandchildren, and 2 great-grandchildren to show for the
longer war. I am happy that my wife, Wanda, is here with
us today. We moved back to Fort Smith
in 1975. I commuted to Denver
the last 6 years on Frontier Airlines for my flights. We
were away from this area for some 30 years, but this is
home and we always intended to come back to retire. This
is a great place to live.
I want to mention right up front the names of my air
crew members. Selbie Greenhalgh (now deceased) was my
radioman. I talked with his wife, Helen, this past week.
John Hutchinson was my gunner and he is now living in
California. These 2 men helped
save our lives with their quick thinking and cool heads
while under enemy fire.
There have been five
United States ships named
USS Lexington. The 4th Lexington,
an aircraft carrier, was sunk early in WWII. In 1942, in
the Coral Sea during the
Solomon Islands and
Rabaul battles. When the USS Lexington was sunk in the
Coral Sea, the shipyard in
Boston was building another
Essex type carrier. It had another name but
the shipyard workers wanted another USS Lexington in the
Pacific Fleet to confuse "Tokyo Rose," the propagandist
during World War II. She reported the
Lexington sunk several times. So,
the nickname of the Lexington
was the "The Blue Ghost.’’ They got the new carrier out
one year earlier than planned and the 5th USS Lexington
was ready for battle. The ship’s number was 16 and the
first air group aboard was Carrier Air Group 16. I was
assigned orders to Torpedo Squadron 16. There was also a
fighter squadron and a dive bomber squadron aboard the
CAG 16 - meaning Carrier Air Group 16 - was composed of
about 90 aircraft and approximately 500 pilots, crew
members and maintenance personnel. We were well trained
and ready to go. So in August, 1943, we went through the
Panama Canal and out to
Hawaii. September, 1943 our
fighter pilots were on reserve to cover an attack on
Wake Island. September 18, we attacked
Tarawa, in the Gilbert Islands,
and made a reconnaissance report for the Marines to land
and take the island from the Japanese. Tarawa
was the first landing to take back an island from the
Japanese and it was tough. Some 3,500 marines were
casualties taking this island. Our fighter squadron caught
23 Japanese planes going to attack the marines on
Tarawa and shot 19 out of the air. Victories
like this went on as we attacked Kwajalein Atoll,
Wake Island, Palau,
Hollandia, New Guinea,
Guam and Truk.
When we bombed Kwajalein we
caught a cruiser at anchor and strafed and bombed it.
On the attack on Palau
Island, on a glide bombing
run, my plane was hit in the engine as I dropped my bombs.
I was able to get halfway back to the carrier but was
advised by those flying wing on me to land before the
engine quit or caught fire. I have a picture taken from a
rescue plane showing my landing in the water. The picture
shows a rescue submarine in the upper right comer and a
rescue plane landing to pick up my crew and me. We were
back in the air in 10 minutes and on our way back to the
USS Wichita. It took another week before they transferred
me back to the Lexington.
My airplane had bullet holes 6 out of the first 10
raids I made. Something just told me this was going to be
a long war!!
The big events, for me, came in June, 1944. The
Saipan, Tinian and
Guam assaults began. The marines and army
landed on Saipan. They were having
a difficult time. The Japanese fleet left the Philippine
Islands for the first time since their earlier defeat at
June 18 we learned their plan was to send their planes
over our carriers and on to Guam to
refuel. They planned to stay out of our range. Our radar
spotted many Japanese planes coming in. They were 130
miles away. Our fighters met them about 60 miles from our
carriers and shot down 402 Japanese planes before the day
was over. We lost maybe 10 airplanes but we did not really
know where the Japanese aircraft carriers were.
Scout planes found the Japanese carriers about the next day,
June 19, 1944. They were 250 miles away. That
was our safe limit of gasoline. About 120 airplanes took
off. I navigated for 325 miles and still had the attack to
make when Japanese zeroes came up under us out of the
clouds. The time of day was about I had seen the largest carrier hit with
bombs two or three times. The air was full of smoke - all
colors - red, blue, white, black. I did not know the
Zeroes were there until I felt the bullets hitting my
plane and heard the machine guns. Fire, smoke and
hydraulic fluid filled the cockpit. I had to bail out. I
had no communications but everyone in formation saw it
happen. We were 11,000 feet above the Japanese Fleet and a
long, long way from home and from the
I delayed several thousand feet before pulling the
ripcord hoping to avoid Japanese gunfire. After I pulled
the ripcord to my parachute I saw my burning plane on the
water and a Jap Zero strafing it. It was dark when I hit
the water still strapped to the parachute. The parachute
acted as a sea anchor and instead of riding on top of the
waves, I was going under the waves and was about to drown.
I got rid of the parachute which was attached to my
lifeboat - I couldn’t get the lifeboat loose and had to
let it all go or drown. I kept most of the other stuff
ripcord, survival pack and a 38 caliber pistol. Soon I had
to let it all go including my boots because I didn’t think
I would ever need them again and they were full of water.
The survival pack was waterlogged and felt like 50 pounds
of lead. I discovered only half of my flotation gear (the
Mae West) was inflated and I was up to my chin in water.
The Marianas Trench is 35,000
feet deep. I was over 300 miles from my carrier, with no
lifeboat and in the middle of the Japanese Fleet and it
was all but dark. I saw my only hope of getting out of
this mess coming right at me - a Japanese cruiser. I was
trying to decide which way to swim to get out of its way
when it turned and went to one side. It was so close to me
that I could see the color of their uniforms even though
it was virtually dark. The uniforms were white and
brownish olive drab.
Now things began to settle down. I saw a Japanese
carrier going by but it was listing so badly I didn’t
think it could stay afloat much longer. There were four or
five Zeroes trying to find a place to land. Then
everything got very still but I could feel thudding sounds
in the water. This went on for a very long time even
though the Japanese had left the area. I believe the
thudding came from the carriers that had been sunk. As the
ships sank deeper into the Mariana trench the pressure was
so great that the sealed compartments in the ships were
The night was long. I felt a fish once when I moved my
hand into it. Not a huge one but big enough to scare me.
Salt water will make you sick and eventually I got sick,
several times. My hands began to shrivel - my tongue began
to swell - I lost a lot of weight that night.
During the night I thought of what a predicament I was
in: 300 miles from the carrier, 600 miles west of
Guam and swimming in 35,000 feet deep water.
I needed a miracle. I began to realize that I would not
leave a legacy to this world. I had not accomplished much
in life - 22 years old - no family of my own and none in
sight I had nothing to leave as a legacy.
My mother and father were living in
Fort Smith. Dad, Herbert McLellan,
traveled and was in Booneville,
AR that night When he returned
home the next day and mother tried to tell him the story
as the newspaper wrote it up, Dad stopped her and said, "I
know it for I dreamed about it last night." I always knew
prayers for my safety were offered daily from my family
and from my home church. I felt those prayers that night.
The next day my squadron came over me about I pulled a dye marker to color the
water around me and they dropped me and each of my two
crewman a lifeboat. I crawled into my boat, covered up
with a sail included in the boat, and went to sleep. About , a
U.S. fighter plane buzzed
the boat and woke me up, and a sea plane landed and picked
me up. This was my own squadron coming back to find us. I
saw my crewmen in another sea plane and that was the first
glimpse I had of them and now I really knew that they were
alive. We had been in the water about 22 hours.
Admiral Mitscher wanted to get my eyewitness report so
they sent a destroyer over to take me back to my carrier.
He immediately called me to report. When I told him what I
had seen he thanked me and said, "I believe we sank 2
carriers." And I thanked him for caring enough about
downed aviators to send rescue planes over 300 miles to
get 5 people out of the water. Two crewmen from another
torpedo plane and me and my crew were rescued. That night
we lost about 42 men. There were approximately 80 people
in the water. It was about and they had to get aboard their
carrier. They had been in the air about 5 hours. Admiral
Mitscher had turned the search lights on in enemy
territory to help planes get back to the carrier, it was
so far and they were out of gas. God surely had allowed
him make great decisions in that first battle of the
Philippine Sea and it was a great success.
That was the last fight the Japanese carriers had. Their
squadrons were devastated and the rest of the war,
Japan used mostly the
kamikaze pilots. The Lexington
was hit by a kamikaze plane after Air Group 16 left for
We arrived home in late July, 1944. Wanda was in a
group of welcoming friends when I got back to
Fort Smith in August, 1944 and we
married in November, 1944. This November 23rd will be our
56th anniversary. God is so good to us. It took a miracle
to bring me back home and allow us to have a wonderful
family. God does answer prayer. I now have a legacy.
Here are some facts about my squadron of 18 torpedo
Made 653 strikes, dropped 480 tons of bombs, expended
53,600 rounds of ammo, fired 221 rockets, laid 35 mines,
dropped 17 torpedoes damaged and destroyed 37 Japanese
planes, sunk 93,500 tons of Japanese ships, damaged 30,500
tons of Japanese ships.
The whole Air Group 16: Shot down or destroyed 150
Japanese planes. The fighters were exceptional. Alex
Vraciu shot down 23 planes - 6 in one trip and still had
150 rounds of .50 caliber ammo when he landed.
Last June 19,2000, was 56 years since I spent that
night swimming in the Pacific Ocean.
During these years I continued to fly as a reserve Naval
aviator for 26 years. I went to college twice and got two
degrees, taught school along the way and then started my
commercial aviation career in 1953.
Flew one year for American Airlines, Flew 12 years for
Central Airlines, Flew 16 years for Frontier Airlines
I started flying in 1939 and retired in 1981 - about 42
years. I retired with 25,300 hours of flight time and had
made about 40,000 landings.
I tell you today that it is a miracle that I am here. I
do have a wonderful family and now I have that cherished
legacy I dreamed of while swimming in the deep waters of
the Pacific Ocean.
That is a miracle and it is wonderful to be with the
Wal Mart Distribution center today. Thank you for letting
me tell you about the USS Lexington and the Air Group that
took a heavy toll for the
United States in World
Since this is a Veteran’s Day Celebration, it is great
to see what you are doing to recognize accomplishments of
the generation that has been labeled "The Greatest
Generation" by Tom Brokaw. Our struggle for freedom will
always go on. There are those who want to take away our
freedom. We must not - we cannot - let down our guard.
This is the greatest nation in the world. We must hold on
to our freedoms and cherish our freedoms and fight for our
freedom. The USS Cole episode is the latest struggle with
those people who would take away our freedom. It cannot
happen - it must not happen - it won’t happen if we are
vigilant and live like God intended for us to live. Listen
to these words received in an e-mail from a friend in
Fort Worth, TX:
"It is the military man or woman, not the reporter, who
has given us freedom of the press. It is the military man
or woman, not the campus organizer, who has given us the
freedom to demonstrate. It is the military man or woman,
who salutes the flag, who serves beneath the flag, and
whose coffins draped by the flag, who allows the protester
to burn the flag."
We do not like to see our flag burned or desecrated. A
constitutional amendment to ban it is debated even now in
Congress. But, we do have the freedom, in this country, to
express ourselves freely. May freedom never die. We will
fight for freedom, forever. Thank you and God bless you.
Warren E. McLellan
Commander USNR (Retired)
Copyright 1998 by Patty Cannon all rights